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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Britton Signs with Octagon; Six Americans Reach Wimbledon Juniors Third Round

Devin Britton, the 2009 NCAA champion as a freshman at Ole Miss, will not be returning to college tennis this fall. In a story that Sports Illustrated's Jon Wertheim first broke on Twitter earlier today, the 18-year-old has signed with Octagon, the sports management company. Wertheim, who is at Wimbledon, has reported that Britton has been a very hot prospect this week, with agents flocking to his matches. Octagon has been the front-runner, however, playing close attention to Britton since his appearance in the final of last year's US Open Juniors, and was able to parlay that early interest into a contract to represent him.

In on-court action today at Wimbledon, Britton defeated New Zealand's Sebastian Lavie, who was also unseeded, 6-4, 7-5. Britton had 38 winners, 22 of them aces, and only ten unforced errors. Radio Wimbledon's Guy McCrea said Britton's volleys were in good order, then passed along this observation: "Tough opponent who gave him a tough match and passed him a few times, but you always felt Britton still had another gear to go if needed, which wasn't."

McCrea said that the best junior match he saw today was Britton's doubles partner Jordan Cox's win over No. 12 seed David Souto of Venezuela. He emailed me that, "Cox seems happy to trade from the back and almost lure the opponent to the net so as to try and pass them (e.g. he produced a super forehand pass to win the opening set.) Souto is a good leftie player though and a fair few of the games went to deuce or were tight." Cox, a qualifier, prevailed 7-6(5), 3-6, 6-3 and faces the only other qualifier still alive in the boys singles draw, Andre Vasilevski of Belarus.

Also advancing in the top half of the draw, in addition to Britton and Cox, is unseeded Alex Domijan, who defeated No. 14 seed Cheng Peng Hsieh of Chinese Taipei 6-2, 6-3. Hsieh had earlier in the day defeated U.S. qualifier Bob van Overbeek 4-6, 7-6(3), 13-11, in a first round match that was tied at 9-9 when it was suspended on Monday night, but didn't make much of an impression on the big Floridian. Domijan's next challenge will be top seed Daniel Berta of Sweden, the French boys champion, who made short work of British qualifier David Thomson 6-3, 6-1.

Harry Fowler had another long three-setter on Tuesday, but again fought through it, taking out wild card Ashley Hewitt of Great Britain 3-6, 6-3, 6-4. Hewitt had fashioned the only big upset of the first two rounds when he beat No. 2 seed Liang-Chi Huang of Chinese Taipei on Saturday.

McCrea also looked in on the two U.S. girls who won second round matches Tuesday, Beatrice Capra and Sloane Stephens. Capra was down 4-2 in the first set tiebreaker against Tamara Curovic of Serbia but won the next five points and took control of the match there, posting a 7-6(4), 6-1 victory. McCrea called Capra's style of play "tremendously committed" and I think that describes very well her determination to get every ball back in play. The seventh-seeded Stephens, the only seeded American still alive, defeated lucky loser Angelique Van Der Meet 6-3, 6-1. Van Der Meet received entry when wild card Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan was a late withdrawal and won her first round match, but Stephens had no difficulty getting through.

McCrea didn't think Stephens was particularly sharp in the match, but has no doubt that she can contend for the title. One more win for her and for top seed Kristina Mladenovic of France and there will be a quarterfinal rematch of their French Junior semifinal just a few weeks ago. Mladenovic had no trouble with 14-year-old qualifier Sachia Vickery of the U.S., posting a 6-1, 6-3 win Tuesday.

No. 15 seed Tennys Sandgren suffered a tough 3-6, 7-6(10), 6-4 loss to Filip Horansky of Slovakia Tuesday, wasting three match points in that lengthy tiebreaker. He was broken at 3-all in the third set and Horansky made that advantage stand up.

Approximately half of the first round of doubles were played Tuesday, and all the U.S. juniors who competed advanced to the second round. For complete draws, see wimbledon.org.

For more on Britton and Fowler's wins, see the ITF junior website.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Oudin Loses, But American Juniors Go Undefeated at Wimbledon Monday

It was almost complete reversal of Saturday's results--U.S. juniors won seven of the eight first round singles matches they played today (one was suspended due to darkness), but Melanie Oudin's run came to an end at the hands of Poland's Agnieszka Radwanska. The 11th seed didn't dominate Oudin, but she played the big points more steadily and her experience and court savvy earned her a second consecutive Wimbledon quarterfinal appearance. For Oudin's comments after the match, see the Wimbledon website.

Thanks again to Guy McCrea, we have coverage from the Junior Championships at Wimbledon, although his obligations this year (you can hear him providing commentary on Radio Wimbledon all week) don't allow him as much leeway in watching matches as last year.

He did get to see a bit of Devin Britton's 6-4, 6-0 win over No. 7 seed Shuichi Sekiguchi of Japan, and noted that Britton had far too much for his opponent. McCrea thought Britton unlucky to lose four games in the opening set, and said he was "very impressed."

McCrea wasn't the only one. Tennis magazine's Peter Bodo, maverick that he is, didn't focus on any of the 16 men's and women's matches played today. He instead went out to see Britton, and although he tempered his comments by comparing Britton to Phillip Bester, another Bollettieri-trained player who has more talent than his pro results have shown, he says this in his tennis.com post about Britton:

His volleys are superb - I don' t believe I've seen a player with such superb touch and placement at a comparable stage in his career since the young Edberg, or Pat Cash. Today, Britton hit numerous drop volleys and acutely angled touch volleys, stretching the court with wisdom beyond his years. And at one point, he took a volley on the backhand side, while approaching, and cut both under and inside the ball in such a way that thing bounced, stopped in mid-air, made a right turn, changed its mind and went back the other way.

I've seen that shot enough to know that it's part of the repertoire, not a fluke. Anyway, Bodo can be seen in the picture that Guy sent (click on photo to enlarge) in the upper left, (I think that's Jon Wertheim in front of him in the shades) as well as National Coach Mike Sell in the blue long-sleeved shirt, and tennis blogger Marc Lucero next to him in the t-shirt with writing on it. Lucero wrote a post on the junior action today as well. His observations can be found in this post on his blog Luch by Marc Lucero. And of course, Britton is blogging this week for usta.com and he is dead-on about Evan King's father Van in his update today.

McCrea also saw a few games of Harry Fowler's match, which if you read my re-tweet on Twitter, you already know. McCrea mentioned again in an email that he was very impressed by the sportsmanship displayed in a two-and-a-half-hour match that went 9-7 in the third, and described the crowd that had gathered by the end as "massive." It was Fowler who came out on top of course, beating Italian qualifier Emanuele Molina 7-6(2), 5-7, 9-7. Fowler was down 5-1 in the second, brought it all the way back to 5-5, lost the next two games, then got out to a 3-0 lead in the third. That didn't last, but he held steady the next ten games to earn the win.

Fowler wasn't the only American that needed three long sets to advance. Fourteen-year-old Sachia Vickery was up 5-3 in the second set and 4-1 with two breaks in the third against fellow qualifier Luksika Kumkhum of Thailand, and although she lost the second set and was periously close to letting Kumkhum pull even in the third, she held on for a 6-4, 6-7(3), 6-3 win. McCrea saw a few games of her match and commented on the maturity of her game for one her age. He hopes to see her play again on Tuesday, when she takes on top seed and French girls champion Kristina Mladenovic of France. Mladenovic, who also won Roehampton on Saturday, was cruising along against qualifier Eugenie Bouchard of Canada when things suddenly went awry, and she was fortunate to escape with a 6-3, 2-6, 7-5 win. No. 2 seed and defending champion Laura Robson was also not at peak form Monday, but she beat Canadian Katarina Paliivets 6-3, 6-2. Wimbledon.org had this story on Robson's opening match.

Beatrice Capra got by qualifier An-Sophie Mestach of Belgium 6-3, 6-7(4), 7-5, to advance to the second round, needing four match points before finally subduing the 15-year-old. Serving for the match at 5-3 in the third, Capra couldn't convert on her match point at 40-30, had another with Mestach serving at 4-5 which she didn't get, and a third with Mestach serving at 5-6 that she didn't seize. But Mestach's luck ran out on match point No. 4, much to Capra's relief, I'm sure.

Sloane Stephens, the No. 7 seed, had an uneventful 6-4, 6-3 victory over British wild card Joacelyn Rae, and Jordan Cox, who qualified, also reached the second round, taking out Australian Open Junior finalist Alexandros-Ferdinando Georgoudas of Germany 6-4, 7-5. Alex Domijan struggled with 15-year-old British qualifier Liam Broady before emerging with a 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 win. Who Domijan will play on Tuesday has yet to be determined. It will be an all-American encounter if Bob van Overbeek can overcome No. 13 seed Cheng Peng Hsieh of Chinese Taipei. They are currently tied at 6-4, 6-7, 9-9 and the last four games of that match were played after they had already suspended for darkness the men's doubles match still out at the time. Van Overbeek was up 4-2 in the third and lost the next three games, but had little difficulty holding serving from behind the rest of the way. Maybe his big serve was especially effective in the dusk of the last several games.

All second round singles matches are scheduled for Tuesday, with only some of the first round of doubles. For complete draws, see wimbledon.org.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Nevolo Wins Open Event and ATP Indy wild card; Harrison Gets First Pro Circuit Title; Cako Takes Wichita Singles Crown

Thanks to Ken Thomas and radiotennis.com, I was able to fill the quiet middle Sunday of Wimbledon listening to the second set of the Pearson Ford Open in Indianapolis. Dennis Nevolo, who just completed his freshman year at the University of Illinois, was the No. 1 seed and had breezed through his first four matches. He was up against unseeded 30-year-old Javier Llanes of Argentina in the final, and that result was closer, but the teenager prevailed 7-5, 6-3. During the part of the match I listened to, Nevolo hit about ten aces, and Thomas pronounced that the difference. With the win, Nevolo receives a wild card into the qualifying of the ATP Indianapolis tournament next month. He also will be playing this week in Winnetka, Ill., not far from his home town of Gurnee, as a recipient of a wild card into that $50,000 Pro Circuit event. For the complete draw of the Pearson Ford Open, see the TennisLink site. Finding out about these wild card events is difficult for me, so if any of you know of one coming up in your area, please let me know by using the profile page email, or leaving a comment.

Ryan Harrison won the battle of the unseeded, Bollettieri-trained 17-year-olds today in Chico, Calif, to capture the $15,000 Pro Circuit event there, his first professional title. Harrison beat Filip Krajinovic 6-3, 6-4, his first win over the Serbian. They had a memorable match at the Eddie Herr in 2007, and at Wimbledon last year, Krajinovic won their second round encounter in straight sets.

There was more action between 17-year-olds in Wichita, Kan. today, when No. 2 seed Jacqueline Cako, who last year reached the semifinals of the $10,000 Pro Circuit event there, met her frequent doubles partner, unseeded Courtney Dolehide of Illinois. Cako, an Arizona State recruit, beat Dolehide, who will be attending UCLA in 2010, 6-2, 6-3. The Wichita Eagle had this story about Saturday's single semifinals and the doubles final, which was won by Ester Goldfeld ad McCall Harkins. It was the pair's second consecutive Pro Circuit final.

For complete results, see the Pro Circuit page at usta.com.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Oudin Upsets Jankovic, but U.S. Juniors Have Rocky Start to Wimbledon; Britton Blogs for USTA

Seventeen-year-old American qualifier Melanie Oudin earned her first victory over a Top Ten player with a 6-7(8), 7-5, 6-2 decision over former world No. 1 and No. 6 seed Jelena Jankovic of Serbia in Saturday's third round at Wimbledon, and New York media has taken notice.

"American teen Melanie Oudin stuns Wimbledon with upset of Jankovic" says Filip Bondy of the New York Daily News, a publication not known for its tennis coverage. In addition to Chris Clarey, who first wrote about Oudin after her second round win and again today, the New York Times has sports columnist Harvey Araton digging into her background in his entry "Oudin’s Odyssey to Fourth Round Stirs American Optimism".

Greg Garber of espn.com, who has been following Oudin since two years ago at Wimbledon, has this story about her, which contains an interesting bit of history:

Oudin, from Marietta, Ga., is the youngest American to reach the round of 16 at Wimbledon since 17-year-old Jennifer Capriati made the quarterfinals here in 1993. Additionally, Oudin is the youngest American to reach the fourth round at any Grand Slam event since 17-year-old Serena Williams won the 1999 U.S. Open.

He also mentions, as does Araton, the rather ungracious remarks of Jankovic regarding Oudin, who described the woman ranked 118 places below her with the words:

"She cannot hurt you with anything," Jankovic said. "She doesn't have any weapons from what I've seen."

Apart from the irony of Jankovic saying this, as one about whom those same caveats are made, it doesn't particularly jibe with what I saw. Oudin had 38 winners compared to Jankovic's 13, and while I wouldn't deny that Jankovic played badly, Oudin made the most of the opportunity she was given.

The complete interview with Oudin is available here via wimbledon.org.

The other American qualifier in the third round, Jesse Levine, wasn't able to join Oudin in the second week. He lost to No. 19 seed Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland 5-7, 7-5, 6-3, 6-3. But Levine did do an interview, available on wimbledon.org, that gives some nice detail on his current work with Sgt. Keith Williams, who has been involved with many juniors the past two years also.

In today's opening round of junior play, only one of the six U.S. competitors managed to advance. No. 16 seed Evan King has now lost his last three first round matches in Europe, when he fell to Belgian Arthur De Greef 6-3, 6-2. No. 12 seed Denis Kudla twice served for his match with Hiroyasu Ehara of Japan, at 5-4 in the second and 5-4 in third, but he couldn't convert either time and lost 3-6, 7-5, 8-6. Mitchell Frank lost to Joze Kovalik of Slovakia 6-4, 2-6, 6-4, and No. 9 seed Christina McHale was eliminated by Yana Buchina of Russia 6-4, 6-3. Nicole Gibbs and No. 11 seed Silvia Njiric of Croatia battled for over two-and-a-half hours today, but it was Njiric who came out on top, by a score of 6-2, 3-6, 6-4.

Tennys Sandgren rescued the day from complete disaster with a routine 6-3, 6-2 win over Adrien Puget of France. The remaining eight U.S. juniors will play their first round matches on Monday. The schedule is available here and the draws, which include the doubles draws, here.

Roehampton champion Devin Britton is blogging for usta.com this week at Wimbledon. His first entry, detailing the rather Spartan conditions the Wimbledon junior players are subject to, can be found here.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Britton Wins Singles and Doubles at Roehampton, Among 14 Americans Seeking Wimbledon Junior Title

2009 NCAA Champion Devin Britton came from a set down, winning a third set tiebreaker to capture the ITF Grade 1 in Roehampton today. The unseeded Britton, who last year won the International Grass Courts in Philadelphia, beat No. 10 seed Facundo Arguello of Argentina 5-7 6-2 7-6(7). He and Jordan Cox then returned to the courts for the doubles championship and it was another U.S. victory with the pair taking a 6-3, 6-2 decision over Pierre-Hugues Herbert of France and Stanislav Poplavskyy of Ukraine. Both teams were unseeded. Britton and Cox, who were quarterfinalists at the Roland Garros Junior Championships, dominated in Roehampton, never needing a match tiebreaker in any of their four wins (they had one walkover). French Junior champion Kristina Mladenovic of France took the girls title; the top seed defeated No. 4 Olivia Rogowska of Australia 7-6(4), 6-2 and did not drop a set in her six victories. Magda Linette of Poland and Heather Watson of Great Britain captured the girls doubles with a 3-6, 6-3, 10-6 win over top seeds Timea Babos of Hungary and Alja Tomljanovic of Croatia. For complete draws, see the LTA website.

The attention now shifts to SW 19 and the All England Lawn Tennis Club, where the first round of the Junior Championships begins Saturday morning. Fourteen Americans-- nine boys and five girls--are in the main draw, three of them qualifiers. Although the qualifying results haven't been updated yet, an examination of the Wimbledon boys and girls draws reveals that Sachia Vickery, Jordan Cox and Bob van Overbeek have made it through today's final round of qualifying. Those playing today at Roehampton, whether in the Grade 1 or in the qualifying, traditionally don't play until Monday (Sunday is an off day for everyone at Wimbledon), but there will be plenty of Americans competing Saturday.

Mitchell Frank and three other U.S. boys, all of them seeded, are on the schedule. Frank plays unseeded Jozef Kovalik of Slovakia; twelfth seed Denis Kudla, who I spotted courtside at the Querrey-Cilic match, plays Japan's Hiroyasu Ehara; fifteenth seed Tennys Sandgren faces Adrien Puget of France; sixteenth seed Evan King plays Arthur De Greef of Belgium.

The U.S. girls playing Saturday are Nicole Gibbs, who takes on No. 11 seed Silvia Njiric of Croatia and No. 9 seed Christina McHale, who faces Yana Buchina of Russia. Sloane Stephens, seeded No. 7, Beatrice Capra and Vickery are not on Saturday's schedule. The other U.S. boys who will likely play Monday are van Overbeek, Cox, Britton, Alex Domijan and Harry Fowler. For the person who commented on whether Britton might be seeded, the ITF events are always, in my experience, seeded strictly by ITF junior rankings (with juniors having ATP/WTA rankings of 500/350 and above being inserted into draws and seeded according to explicit rules). A grass formula or a committee's discretion doesn't enter the picture at Junior Slams. Defending champion Laura Robson of Great Britain, for example, is seeded No. 2. She spoke about playing the juniors in this Guardian article. Two of the players she might be talking about to whom she's lost this year and are in the junior draw are American Sloane Stephens and Richel Hogenkamp of the Netherlands.

For complete junior singles draws, click here. For Saturday's order of play, click here.

The ITF junior website has this Wimbledon preview, but unfortunately, nothing on Roehampton.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Sarmiento Profile; Levine, Oudin Reach Wimbledon Third Round; Britton in Roehampton Final

My weekly article for the Tennis Recruiting Network is a profile of Grass Court champion Raymond Sarmiento. Sarmiento shares his memorable encounter with Andre Agassi (who has just held a press conference about his participation in World Team Tennis with the Philadelphia Freedoms, joining Madison Keys on the roster) and his thoughts on the recruiting process that is in his near future.

Today at Wimbledon, U.S. qualifiers Jesse Levine and Melanie Oudin advanced to the third round with long, tough victories. Levine took a quick two-set lead on lucky loser Pablo Cuevas of Uruguay, lost sets three and four, but eked out a 6-2, 6-1. 4-6, 4-6, 6-3 win. ESPN2 showed the end of the fourth set and all of the fifth, although I don't believe the match was taking place on one of the so-called "TV" courts. Oudin didn't get that same treatment--none of her match was shown, with a tape of Venus's routine win airing instead. I'm guessing that was due to the court and the lighting conditions, because it was after 9 p.m. when Oudin completed her 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 win over Yaroslava Shvedova of Kazakhstan. Oudin was up 4-1 in the third, lost her break serving at 4-2, then saved a break point serving at 4-4. With Shvedova serving to stay in the match, she got down 0-40, saved two match points, but not the third, and Oudin had her second win at a major. Both Levine and Oudin were invited on the ESPN set as the telecast came to a close, and Mary Carillo and Mary Joe Fernandez conducted a lengthy interview with them. Levine revealed that he would be practicing with Roddick on Friday, and gave credit to the USTA for helping him. Chris Clarey of the New York Times wrote this excellent story about Oudin and Levine.

Devin Britton has reached the finals of the ITF Grade 1 at Roehampton, beating Alex Domijan 6-4, 7-6(3). He plays No. 10 seed Facundo Arguello of Argentina in the final. French Open girls champion Kristina Mladenovic and Australian Olivia Rogowska will play for the girls title Friday morning.

Britton and Cox are also in the doubles final, and got there the easy way, with their opponents giving them a walkover. Beatrice Capra and Alexandra Cercone lost in a match tiebreaker to No. 1 seeds Timea Babos and Ajla Tomljanovic in their semifinal. For complete results, see the LTA website.

After being so excited to find all the Wimbledon Junior qualifying information on wimbledon.org last night, there aren't any results from today's first round of qualifying that I can find. (Update 8:30 a.m. Friday--the ITF Junior website has the updated results from Thursday here.) The main draw is scheduled to be posted tomorrow, with play beginning on Saturday. The website's junior page is here.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

LTA Continues to Take Heat in Great Britain; Britton and Domijan to Meet for Spot in Roehampton Finals: Wimbledon Junior Qualifying Draws Posted

Yesterday was not a good day for British tennis; at the completion of Wimbledon's first round, only 2 of the 11 British players (nine wild cards, two direct entries) had won their opening matches. No. 3 seed Andy Murray, of course, was one of them, the other was Elena Baltacha, whose win over Alona Bondarenko of Ukraine prevented the worst British showing ever. As it was, 2009 now matches the previous low, set in 2007.

I've been collecting British development stories this week, and it's about time to start posting them, as their number is only going to be increasing. It doesn't seem to matter that in Murray the British have a genuine contender for the title; the undercurrent from all these stories, or the Fleet Street ones anyway, is that quantity is what is most prized. If England could only have the number of men in the Top 100 that Spain or France has, everything would be smashing, I guess, even though until last year, neither country had produced a men's Wimbledon champion in the Open Era.

We'll leave the discussion about whether a country ever produces a champion to another time and proceed to the frustration that the British are expressing. The first story, a sort of overview for casual tennis fans, from the Wall Street Journal, is entitled "Can Anyone Save British Tennis?"

The Times Neil Harman has been a particularly dogged critic of the current leadership at the LTA, and he doesn't pull any punches in his story, nor does the headline writer--LTA Must Take Blame for Britain's Lost Causes. And the readers comments on Harman's story are not to be missed either. Steve Bierley of the Guardian is not inclined to blame the LTA, but rather glumly cites the lack of athletic talent in the country in his review of Tuesday's results.

Tennis.com's Steve Tignor has been providing a very interesting review of what the tabloids are focusing their energy on this week, and in a post today, that's the sorry state of British tennis. His recounting of the headlines, which are never heavy on subtlety, is quite comical, especially to those of us who have no exposure to that sort of thing. And speaking of headlines, Peter Bodo of tennis.com's TennisWorld, looks at the British performance at Wimbledon under the title Cruel Brittania.

And finally, there is this Independent story, focusing on the demands of English schools as a reason that British players are behind their contemporaries as youngsters. It's rather unusual in these tennis discussions for the U.S. to be held up as an example to emulate, but this one does just that.

Today at Roehampton, Americans Devin Britton and Alex Domijan advanced to a semifinal meeting, assuring that the U.S. will have an unseeded boy in the final. Britton, who has not lost more than five games in any of his four wins, beat Alessandro Bega of Italy 6-2, 6-3, while Domijan beat New Zealand's Sebastian Lavie 6-1, 3-6, 6-1. Britton and Jordan Cox also reached the doubles semifinals, but that didn't earn Cox a special exempt into the Wimbledon Junior main draw; he'll be playing singles qualifying prior to his doubles semifinals. Alexandra Cercone is in the same boat; she and Beatrice Capra are in the doubles semifinal at Roehampton, but Cercone will be playing her Wimbledon singles qualifying match first. Bob van Overbeek is the only other U.S. boy in qualifying. The other U.S. girls who begin qualifying Thursday are Brooke Bolender, Sachia Vickery,and Annie Mulholland. Julia Boserup, who is still on the qualifying list in the latest acceptance, from Tuesday, isn't in the qualifying draw. Interesting to note that Tammy Hendler of Belgium and Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan were given wild cards into the girls main draw, but all the wild cards in the boys are from Great Britain.

For the draws and order of play for Roehampton, see the LTA's website. For the Wimbledon Junior qualifying, see wimbledon.org's home page and a big thank you to the AELTC for posting that in a timely fashion in an easy-to-find place.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Britton, Harrison Named Davis Cup Practice Partners; U.S. Roehampton Survivors Down to Two, Levine and Oudin Produce Upsets At Wimbledon

The USTA announced this afternoon that 18-year-old Devin Britton and 17-year-old Ryan Harrison have been named practice partners for the upcoming Davis Cup tie in Croatia next month. The U.S. Davis Cup team has not yet been announced, and although it would be a shock if it didn't include Andy Roddick and the Bryan twins, I expect Patrick McEnroe is contemplating naming someone other than James Blake to the team, given Blake's recent slump, Interesting that one of tomorrow's second round Centre Court matches pits Croatian Marin Cilic against Sam Querrey in a possible preview of one of that tie's singles matches. The surface Croatia has chosen is indoor clay, so it may not be a barometer, but I'm guessing McEnroe will be a very interested observer at that one. The full release is available at usta.com.

Britton and Alex Domijan, who served as a practice partner for the U.S. Davis Cup team in March against Switzerland, are hoping to face each other in the semifinals of Roehampton, as both advanced to the quarterfinals of the Wimbledon Junior warm-up event there today. Domijan beat Radim Urbanek of the Czech Republic 6-4, 7-6(0) today, and will face Sebastian Lavie of New Zealand in Wednesday's quarterfinals. Britton eased past British qualifier James Chaudry 6-3, 6-2 to set up a meeting with Italian Alessandro Bega, who beat Bob van Overbeek in today's round of 16. Denis Kudla, the No. 8 seed, lost to No. 10 seed Facundo Arguello of Argentina 7-5, 6-4. Nicole Gibbs, the only U.S. girl remaining in the singles draw, lost to No. 3 seed Noppawan Lertcheewakarn of Thailand 6-4, 6-2. Britton and Jordan Cox are still in doubles, as is Tennys Sandgren, who is playing with Japan's Yasutaka Uchiyama. Beatrice Capra and Alexandra Cercone have reached the quarterfinals in the girls doubles. For complete draws, see the LTA website's news page.

Although I saw not a point of either match, (I watched ESPN 2 most of the morning, but not in the afternoon), I'm happy to report that Melanie Oudin and Jesse Levine pulled off upsets today at Wimbledon. Oudin won her first main draw match at a Grand Slam with a 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 victory over No. 29 seed Sybille Bammer of Austria and John Martin of the New York Times Straight Sets blog, has a brief post on it here. Another U.S. qualifier, Jesse Levine, shocked 2008 semifinalist and No. 14 seed Marat Safin of Russia 6-2, 3-6, 7-6(4), 6-4. The former Florida Gator is less of a story as the winner than Safin is as the loser, but wimbledon.org has this article about the match.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Robson Loses, Larcher de Brito Wins; Roehampton's Second Round; Why Not Serve and Volley?; Roddick In, Sell Out

Tennis ingenues Laura Robson and Michelle Larcher de Brito captured most of the women's headlines as Wimbledon opened today. Robson took the first set from Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia, but double-faulted her way out of contention in the next two sets, while Larcher de Brito was unexpectedly quiet in her 6-2, 7-5 win over Klara Zakapalova of the Czech Republic. Tennis.com's Steve Tignor is at Wimbledon this week, and he posted this long and interesting analysis of their games and the hype that accompanies both of them, turning to Nick Bollettieri for even more insight. Here is another story, from the Telegraph that asks Bollettieri about his role in the high-decibel noises emanating from many of the women who train at his academy.

The second round was completed today at the Roehampton ITF, with four U.S. boys and one U.S. girl reaching the round of 16. Alex Domijan defeated No. 7 seed David Souto of Venezuela 7-5, 6-2, Bob van Overbeek downed unseeded Karim-Mohamed Maamoun of Egypt 6-3, 7-5, Devin Britton got revenge for his 2008 Eddie Herr defeat at the hands of Virginia recruit and No. 6 seed Julien Uriquen of Guatemala 6-3, 6-0, and No. 8 seed Denis Kudla got past Jack Carpenter of Great Britain 7-6(6), 4-6, 6-1. Unseeded Nicole Gibbs is the only U.S. girl still in singles; she defeated Akiko Omae of Japan by the popular 6-3, 7-5 score. Jordan Cox, Harry Fowler, Beatrice Capra and Brooke Bolender were eliminated from singles today. The top half of the boys draw, which contains three of the Americans, has only one seed left, No. 16 Arthur De Greef of Belgium. Top seed and French Open Boys champion Daniel Berta of Sweden was beaten today by New Zealand's Sebastian Lavie 7-5, 6-2. No. 2 seed Liang-Chi Huang of Chinese Taipei also lost today, to Great Britain's Ashley Hewitt, a wild card. For complete results, including doubles, see the LTA news page. A new acceptance list has been posted for Junior Wimbledon today on the wimbledon.org home page.

I watched some of Roger Federer's match today on Centre Court and was struck at how much baseline tennis was played between he and Yen-Hsun Lu of Chinese Taipei. Although I saw some of that in the girls draw at the International Grass Courts, very few points played by boys there went more than four or five strokes, so I guess I wasn't expecting the long rallies, which I enjoy on clay and hard courts, but find frustrating on grass. I know the grass at Wimbledon has changed, and now I know even more about how it has and why, with this article by Geoff Macdonald for the New York Times Straight Sets blog.

Macdonald includes John McEnroe's thoughts on the decline of serve and volley, and Macdonald even refers to the Malcolm Gladwell New Yorker article about underdogs that I linked to last month.

And if you are wondering how it is the head coach of the Vanderbilt women's team ended up blogging for the New York Times, check out this story from the Vanderbilt athletics website on Macdonald's recruitment.

If you aren't following me on Twitter you may have missed these links on college coaching changes last week. John Roddick has been named men's head coach at Oklahoma and Kathy Sell has resigned from her position as head women's coach at Princeton.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Goldfeld Reaches Singles & Doubles Finals in Brownsville; Roehampton Grade 1 Underway; Robson & Larcher de Brito Debut at Wimbledon Monday

Ester Goldfeld will have a WTA ranking when they are released on Monday (update: it appears it will be after Wimbledon before her points are added), now that the soon-to-be 16-year-old from Brooklyn has gained points in her third Pro Circuit event. At the $10,000 event in Brownsville, Texas, Goldfeld reached the singles final as a qualifier, winning six matches before finally falling to No. 1 seed Sacha Jones of New Zealand 6-3, 2-6, 6-0. Goldfeld has struggled in junior events lately, but she didn't lose a game in qualifying, and didn't lose a set on her way to the final. In addition to reaching the singles final, Goldfeld teamed with recent TCU grad Macall Harkins to make the doubles final, but again she lost to Jones, who was playing with Texan Ashley Weinhold. The Brownsville Herald spoke with Goldfeld for this story prior to today's final.

In the men's $15,000 Pro Circuit event in California, top seed Carsten Ball won the singles, while Lester Cook and Treat Huey captured the doubles. For complete draws, see the Pro Circuit results page at usta.com.

The ITF Grade 1 in Roehampton began today with mixed results for the U.S. players entered. Qualifier Jordan Cox, Alex Domijan, Harry Fowler, Denis Kudla, Bob van Overbeek and Devin Britton won their first round matches, but the two seeded U.S. boys, Tennys Sandgren (11) and Evan King (12) lost, as did Mitchell Frank. Few U.S. girls are competing this week, but qualifier Brooke Bolender, as well as Nicole Gibbs and Beatrice Capra, advanced to the second round. Alexandra Cercone lost her opening match.

For complete draws, visit the LTA site, and scroll down to find the junior order of plays and results at the left.

Wimbledon begins tomorrow, of course, and I was very disappointed that I will be unable to buy the Wimbledon Live webstreaming, after enjoying it last year during the second week. For rights reasons, it is not available in the U.S. and Canada, so we'll be at the mercy of ESPN2 (I don't have access to ESPN 360 either). That virtually guarantees no coverage of junior matches, which was such a great bonus last year.

Two teenagers who are guaranteed to get much of the attention on the women's side tomorrow at AELTC are wild cards Michelle Larcher de Brito and Laura Robson of Great Britiain--Larcher de Brito for her volume and Robson for her nationality. I could post links to dozens of stories about each, but I'll limit it to one apiece. Chris Clarey of the New York Times explains why he believes that Larcher de Brito has crossed the line that has been established by Seles, Sharapova and others in this article. Larcher de Brito plays Klara Zakopalova of the Czech Republic.

2008 girls Wimbledon champion Robson, a year younger than the 16-year-old from Portugal, is making her main draw debut Monday against Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia. Practically every grand slam winner, retired or active, has been asked by the British press to give Robson advice, and in this Telegraph story, Tracy Austin is called on to put her two cents in.

For the complete order of play for Monday, see wimbledon.org.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Book Review: Outliers, The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

In a comment today, Jon King mentioned a frequently cited reason for the decline of the U.S.A’s tennis fortunes: the best athletes in this country don’t play tennis. It may be true, and I’ve been known to mention it myself when I’m asked for my opinion on the state of American tennis, but since I’ve read Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers: The Story of Success, I’ve begun to question that assumption.

As with his other two books, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, and Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking,Gladwell’s Outliers will make unimaginable connections and float ultimately convincing theories for all manner of human behavior. How do rice paddies explain the Asian proclivity for mathematics? Why did Korean Airlines have such a dismal safety record? Why don’t Ivy League schools produce the majority of Nobel Laureates? You’ll find the answers to these and many other questions, including why birth date matters in athletics and academics (The Matthew Effect), although I have to admit that this particular Gladwell argument doesn’t resonate as much with me as some of his others. (It matters for hockey and soccer, but not for basketball and football?)

One of his theories was not new to me; I’ve seen previous sports writing references to the actual 1990s Berlin Academy of Music study by K. Anders Ericsson that has become known as the 10,000 hour rule. Simply put, it says that in order to become expert at something, you need to 10,000 hours of practice.

Here’s a key excerpt from Gladwell’s chapter on this study:

With the help of the academy's professors, they divided the school's violinists into three groups. In the first group were the stars, the students with the potential to become world-class soloists. In the second were those judged to be merely "good." In the third were students who were unlikely to ever play professionally and who intended to be music teachers in the public school system. All of the violinists were then asked the same question: over the course of your entire career, ever since you first picked up the violin, how many hours have you practiced?

Everyone from all three groups started playing at roughly the same age, around five years old. In those first few years, everyone practiced roughly the same amount, about two or three hours a week. But when the students were around the age of eight, real differences started to emerge. The students who would end up the best in their class began to practice more than everyone else: six hours a week by age nine, eight hours a week by age twelve, sixteen hours a week by age fourteen and up and up, until by the age of twenty they were practicing--that is, purposefully and single-mindedly playing their instruments with the intent to get better--well over thirty hours a week. In fact, by the age of twenty, the elite performers had each totaled ten thousand hours of practice. By contrast, the merely good students had totaled eight thousand hours, and the future music teachers had totaled just over four thousand hours.

The striking thing about Ericsson's study is that he and his colleagues couldn't find any "naturals," musicians who floated effortlessly to the top while practicing a fraction of the time their peers did. Nor could they find any "grinds," people who worked harder than everyone else, yet just didn't have what it takes to break the top ranks. Their research suggests that once a musician has enough ability to get into a top music school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works. That's it. And what's more, the people at the very top don't work just harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder.

I think the implications for tennis are obvious, as is this related quote from a chapter entitled "The Trouble With Geniuses, Part 1":

A basketball player only has to be tall enough --and the same is true of intelligence. Intelligence has a threshold. It's like basketball again: once someone is tall enough, then we start to care about speed and court sense and agility and ball-handling skills and shooting touch.

I think that speaks directly to the question of athleticism in tennis. Once someone is athletic enough, future achievement in tennis is about other things.

Gladwell takes great pains to puncture the myth of self-made success, arguing that it is much more complicated than that. Early on he says:

We've seen that extraordinary achievement is less about talent than it is about opportunity.

Then later:

Everything we have learned in Outliers says that success follows a predictable course. It is not the brightest who succeed...Nor is success simply the sum of decisions and efforts we make on our own behalf. It is, rather, a gift. Outliers are those who have been given opportunities--and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them.

And finally:

Virtually every success story we've seen in this book so far involves someone or some group working harder than their peers.

Soon I hope to finish rereading The Talent Code: Greatness Isn't Born. It's Grown. Here's How. by Daniel Coyle, the author of this article about Moscow's Spartak Club in the New York Times that I linked to a couple of years ago. He has expanded that into an excellent book that is really a companion piece to Gladwell’s. I’ll be reviewing that book soon, but if you’ve already read Outliers and are looking for more information on how talent is translated into success, order it from Amazon now via the link above. It is absolutely essential reading for any coach or parent.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Junior Tennis Documentary 50,000 Balls To Air on ESPN Classic This Sunday Evening June 21

Set your Tivos and DVRs for 11 p.m. EDT Sunday night, when ESPN Classic will broadcast the junior tennis documentary 50,000 Balls.

I've seen the film many times in several versions, but I'll be recording it to see the one hour television edition, the airing of which represents the diligence and determination of TJ Pura's mother and Tom Pura's widow, Sara Weinheimer.

Tom's untimely death, just under a year ago, left Sara with the task of seeing the film get wider distribution, as Tom had just begun to shepherd it through the film festival circuit. That she was able to accomplish this while dealing with her own and her family's grief is a testament to her inspirational strength and her commitment to the project.

Centered around four boys--Joe DiGiulio, Mitchell Krueger, Mitchell Polnet and TJ Pura-- who are preparing for the 12s National Hard Courts in Arkansas in 2006, the film is a very authentic look at the subculture of junior tennis in its earliest stages. I spoke with Tom a couple of months before his death for this Tennis Recruiting Network interview, and as I reread it, the question about a sequel made me very sad, coming as it did with the realization that is unlikely to happen now.

The film he did make is an important and substantial legacy, however, and it is both entertaining and instructive. I truly enjoyed the extended interviews with Tom Gullikson, Jay Berger, Gilad Bloom, Billy McQuaid, Dave Licker, Chris Lewis and Al Parker that most certainly will not be in the version shown Sunday, Father's Day, but they are available on the DVD, which can be purchased on the website. The film will also air on ESPNU on July 3 at 10 p.m. EDT, but those are the only two air times scheduled.

The press release I received this afternoon had this quote from Mary Carillo, the respected longtime tennis commentator.

"This film takes a good, hard look at the rigors and sacrifices that are made in the name of junior tennis, not only by its young players but by their entire families. I'm the mother of two strong, athletic kids who both chose team sports over tennis. They quickly came to understand what it would take to be among the elite, and gravitated to other sports. I never tried to stop them, either--it takes a special kid to go towards such a lofty standard and goal. '50,000 Balls' gives good insights into both the joys and tribulations of junior tennis."

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Grass Court Wrap; Oudin and Four U.S. Men Quailfy for Wimbledon; USTA Names Pro Transition Camp Participants; Texas Grand Slam

My weekly article for the Tennis Recruiting Network is a review of last week's ITF International Grass Court Championships. Even with less-than-ideal weather, it was an enjoyable week featuring all the tradition and grace of Wimbledon without all the crowds.

Speaking of Wimbledon, qualifying was completed today at Roehampton, and five Americans--four men and one woman--earned a spot in the main singles draw. Seventeen-year-old Melanie Oudin, who crashed out (got to get used to the British way of saying things now) of the qualifying at Roland Garros in the first round, defeated 2007 U.S. Open girls champion Kristina Kucova of Slovakia 6-4, 6-0 to capture a place in the draw, the only U.S. woman to do so. Madison Brengle, Lindsay Lee-Waters, Shenay Perry and Abigail Spears lost, one win short of reaching the AELTC grounds.

The U.S. men had much better luck, with Jesse Levine, Michael Yani, Taylor Dent and Rajeev Ram all advancing. The staff at wimbledon.org has given most of them excellent coverage, talking with Yani and Dent for this story, and featuring an additional interview with Levine in their "as it happened" report. For complete draws, see wimbledon.org.

The USTA has announced the players who will be attending a Pro Tour Transition Camp beginning this weekend. USTA Coach Hugo Armando and USTA Clay Court Specialist Leo Azevedo will be conducting the training camp for top junior and collegiate players. Daily fitness training will be provided by Strength and Conditioning Coach, Satoshi Ochi. The players are:

Matt Allare
Jean-Yves Aubone
Chase Buchanan
Reid Carleton
Steve Johnson
Roy Kalmanovich
Bradley Klahn
Bryan Koniecko
Austin Krajicek
Justin Kronauge
Dennis Nevolo
Cory Parr
Nathan Pasha
Conor Pollock
Jordan Rux
Blake Strode

And the Texas College Tennis blog is reporting on the Texas Summer Grand Slam, their big junior sectional event in College Station and also talking about some of the rumored candidates for the vacant University of Oklahoma men's head coaching job.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Nadal's Development; Weil to China; Dickson's New Academy; USTA Selects Kaplan for Education; Orange Co. High Performance Conference Next Weekend

Although I don't usually link to profiles of professionals, this one on Rafael Nadal by Cynthia Gorney for Sunday's New York Times magazine has plenty about his development and about his uncle Toni's coaching philosophy. Doubtful that it can be copied, but interesting nonetheless.

Mark Weil, who has had an academy in Ojai, California for some time, will be spending most of his summer in China, conducting junior training camps in Shanghai. For more on his goals for this project, see Steve Pratt's article on Tennisweek.com.

There is no shortage of tennis academies in the Bradenton/Sarasota area, and Mic Huber of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune profiles the man behind a new one, Mark Dickson, a former Top 40 ATP Tour professional. According to Huber, it will be based in two public facilities in Sarasota.

USTA Player Development has entered into an agreement with Kaplan Virtual Education to provide online schooling options for junior members of the USTA, according to this press release.

California's Orange County Community Tennis Association is scheduling a High Performance Tennis Parents Conference for June 27 and 28, which features several impressive speakers, including longtime teacher Vic Braden, USC men's head coach Peter Smith and USTA National Coach David Roditi. For more information on this conference, click here.

And finally, for those following Wimbledon, there is a new junior acceptance list out a pdf of which can be found on the home page of wimbledon.org and the final round of ladies and gentlemen's qualifying will take place on Thursday, with nine U.S. players still alive. The men are: Taylor Dent, Jesse Levine, Rajeev Ram and Michael Yani. The women are: Madison Brengle, Lindsay Lee-Waters, Melanie Oudin, Shenay Perry and Abagail Spears. Australian juniors Bernard Tomic and Olivia Rogowska, who are entered in the junior championships, are also just one win away from qualifying for the main draw.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Grass Court Slide Show, Videos

I've completed the Grass Court slide show processing, and although the weather wasn't that great for tennis, it was ideal for photography! Special thanks to my husband Paul Ballard for all his efforts with the camera last week.

Grass court tennis doesn't lend itself to great videos, with most points being very short, but I have uploaded to my YouTube channel videos of Brooke Bolender, Michael Zhu, Chanelle Van Nguyen and Emmett Egger, in addition to those of champions Raymond Sarmiento and Lauren Davis below.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Bhambri, Embree Out of Wimbledon Jrs; Men's Qualifying; Florida Closed; USTA Juniors in Spain

With men's qualifying starting today at Wimbledon, I visited wimbledon.org for only the second or third time this year (I've downloaded the official iPhone app, although it won't start delivering scores until the main draw starts next Monday), and I ran across a junior acceptance list that was updated last Tuesday. India's Yuki Bhambri, No. 1 in the ITF junior rankings, has withdrawn, although not for reasons of injury. He will be playing ITF Men's Circuit events instead, according to this story from The Times of India.

Lauren Embree of the U.S. has also withdrawn. JT Sundling, who wasn't sure whether he would be going over or not when I spoke with him last week, has moved into the qualifying with Bhambri's withdrawal. Nicole Gibbs and Mallory Burdette are at the top of the qualifying list now, meaning they will be next in to the main draw, and Julia Boserup (who has been ill) and Sachia Vickery have moved into qualifying. Brooke Bolender and Grace Min are next in to qualifying; I know that Bolender, who is already in the qualifying at the Roehampton Grade 1, which starts Saturday, is leaving tomorrow. For the updated acceptance list, click here.

The men's qualifying started today, although the first round wasn't completed due to late afternoon rain. Jesse Levine, Michael Yani and Brendan Evans won, but it wasn't in general a very good day for U.S. players, with Donald Young, Amer Delic, Todd Widom, Scoville Jenkins and Alex Bogomolov losing, the latter to 16-year-old Bernard Tomic of Australia. Vanderbilt women's coach Geoff Macdonald has written about the qualifying for the New York Times's Straight Set blog the past two days and selects some of the U.S. players he expects to advance to the main draw. Here is his men's preview (I am in complete agreement with him about John McEnroe and what can only be termed his snobbishness when it comes to rankings) and Macdonald's women's preview is here.

For complete qualifying draws, see wimbledon.org.

The Florida Closed was last week, and the 18s champions are Danielle Collins and Gonzales Austin. For an account of all the age divisions, see the USTA Florida website. For complete 14, 16 and 18s draws, see the TennisLink site. An enterprising journalist from the Daytona Beach News-Journal asked some of the tournament's competitors why U.S. tennis is lagging the rest of the world. Their answers can be found here.

I also ran across this list from the Midwest section's website that names the junior boys who were or are training in Spain in May and June. I was wondering why some of the older boys weren't in Philadelphia, and now I know.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Keys Out of Wimbledon; Ore Wins Grade 2 in Morocco; Krajicek and Pollock Take Doubles Title

Another International Grass Courts is in the books (the 91st, I think!), but it's not quite over yet for me. I'll be putting together a slideshow, uploading some videos and writing a wrap-up for Tennis Recruiting Network this week. But the junior and college tennis world keeps spinning, with Pro Circuit events in California and Texas, and the Roehampton and Wimbledon junior events looming.

The ITF Junior site hasn't updated the Wimbledon junior acceptances; the first one, with a May 22nd date, is all that's available, but 14-year-old Madison Keys won't be on the next one released, according to this story at the Quad-Cities Times. I noticed that Keys had not played the French, but didn't know why until I read that she is experiencing hip pain associated with growing (sounds similar to what Christian Harrison is going through). She is planning on playing World Team Tennis next month for the Philadelphia Freedoms, which is one of the few options she has to play professionally as a 14-year-old. The story looks back at her childhood in the midwest and forward to her future, with John Evert expecting great things from her.

Over the weekend Junior Ore, seeded seventh, won the singles title at the ITF Grade 2 event in Morocco, after having reached the final in the two previous Grade 3 tournaments in that country the weeks before. All three tournaments are on clay. Dennis Novikov, the only other U.S. boy in the draw, won the doubles title with partner Bartosz Sawicki of Poland. For complete results, see the ITF junior website.

And Texas College Tennis blog is reporting via Twitter that Texas A&M's Conor Pollock and Austin Krajicek, two of the members of the USTA Summer Collegiate Team, have won the doubles title at the $15,000 Pro Circuit event in Loomis, California. They were unseeded.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Davis and Sarmiento Earn Grass Court Singles Championships

©Colette Lewis 2009--
Philadelphia, PA--

The weather was reminiscent of Wimbledon, with on and off showers threatening to disrupt the girls and boys International Grass Court finals throughout the day at the Philadelphia Cricket Club, but by late Saturday afternoon the silver plates were hoisted by the champions: qualifier Lauren Davis and No. 4 seed Raymond Sarmiento. Davis defeated top seed Brooke Bolender 6-2, 3-6, 6-2 and Sarmiento downed qualifier Michael Zhu 6-2, 6-3.

Davis, the reigning USTA girls 16s champion, played a phenomenal first set against Bolender, hitting both her slice and her two-handed backhand with depth and precision. Davis's return was particularly effective, and Bolender often looked unprepared for the pace of it, and slow to react. When the top seed came into the net, often on good approaches, Davis would hit an applause-inducing pass, or if both were at the net, would finish the point with a perfectly placed volley.

Davis was broken serving at 4-1--her serve was the one part of her game that she didn't seem confident in--but she got that break right back with yet another passing shot winner, and held for the set.

The sprinkles had begun, just drops here and there, but with Bolender serving in the first game of the second set, the rain became steadier, and play was suspended. It couldn't have come at a better time for Bolender.

"She started off really well, and I was a little nervous," Bolender said. "It was nice to be able to calm down and clear my head before the second set. I think it was hard for her because she had all the momentum, and it was probably frustrating to have to stop and start again."

Davis said she thought she took the hour and twenty minute delay in stride.

"I tried my best to keep my focus," said Davis. "I read, which really helps me. I thought I was prepared for it, but I guess I wasn't."

Davis broke Bolender in the opening game, but after four straight breaks, it was 2-2 in the second set. Bolender picked up her game, and the errors that were absent from Davis's game in the first set cropped up often in the second. Bolender was the player finding the lines and finishing the volleys; it was if the players had swapped games during the rain delay. Bolender held for 3-2, and two more times in the set, and the match was even.

The third set started as the first two had for Bolender, being broken early. This time she wasn't able to recover as she had in the second set, and it was her serve that was the culprit. She double faulted on game point to drop her first two serves, and was down 4-0 in a hurry. Bolender broke and held to make it 4-2, and had a break point to get back on serve in the next game, but Davis saved it, taking a 5-2 lead and finding the winners that had deserted her in the second set.

As raindrops began to fall again, Bolender served to stay in the match. It was a long and well-played game that went to five deuces before Davis finally ended it with a forehand winner, earning her first ITF title and her seventh victory of the week.

"Even though I was a qualifier, I knew I could beat a lot of the people in this tournament," Davis said. "That there would be tough matches, but that I would just have to buckle down and win them. But the qualifying matches actually helped me, even though they weren't the hardest, because I got a head start."

The sprinkles that accompanied the end of the girls match soon ended and although there were dark clouds hovering, the boys final was played without disruption and was completed in less than a hour, with the seed, not the qualifier, prevailing.

Zhu struggled with nerves in the opening set, and was able to hold serve only once, although he did manage to break Sarmiento in the third game. In the second set, Zhu seemed to find his game, and after having beaten top seed JT Sundling in the semifinals from a set down, it wasn't inconceivable he would do the same Saturday.

When he broke Sarmiento at love at 2-2 in the second, that scenario began to take shape; Zhu hit three clean winners that Sarmiento could only shake his head at.

But Zhu couldn't consolidate his break. He battled back from 0-40 to earn three game points in the four-deuce game, but Sarmiento came up with a serve return winner and a volley winner to climb back to 3-3.

"I'm pretty sure that was set there if he had held," Sarmiento said. "Not for sure, but he definitely had the edge in that set. I just tried my best to put pressure on his serve, to break him right back. He played a really good game at 2-all; he can do that, he can get on rolls, so I had to do my best to bounce back."

Zhu admitted that both his lack of experience and Sarmiento's game contributed to his defeat.

"It was my first time being in the final in an ITF," said Zhu, who was playing his eighth singles match in eight days. "I don't even have a ranking, I just got some points here, and it never crossed my mind that I would make it this far. It was difficult, because he also has great returns, and I can't serve and volley on that. He's got great all-around strokes, and that's basically what you need, the confidence and the experience."

Sarmiento, who won the doubles title with Nathan Pasha on Friday, had only a few pre-match jitters.

"Once I got started, I felt comfortable on the court," Sarmiento said, and that ease showed in the final three games of match, when he had no difficulty swinging aggressively and taking every opportunity Zhu gave him.

Sarmiento is heading for Europe next week to visit an aunt in the Netherlands and to play a Futures event and two ITF junior tournaments. The surface? Clay.

For complete draws, visit the TennisLink site.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Qualifiers Battle Back to Reach Singles Finals; Doubles Champions Crowned at Grass Courts

©Colette Lewis 2009--
Philadelphia, PA--

The sun finally made an appearance at the International Grass Courts, but the change in the weather didn't change the fortunes of qualifiers Lauren Davis and Michael Zhu, who kept their winning streaks intact with come-from-behind wins Friday afternoon.

Zhu, a 16-year-old who is commuting from his home in Princeton, absorbed the loss of the first set for the second consecutive match with No. 1 seed JT Sundling cruising through the opener 6-2. But Zhu took a quick lead in the second set, making Sundling play from behind, and although the 18-year-old Californian pulled even, then took at 5-4 lead, the next game was key. Serving at 4-5 deuce, Zhu was only two points from a straight-set loss, but he won the next two points, broke Sundling in the following game, and momentum was all on his side.

Serving at 3-2 in the third set, Zhu went down 0-40, got to deuce, then saved three more break points to take a 4-2 lead. With a second break of Sundling in the next game, Zhu had some breathing room and he served out the match, despite facing a break point in the final game.

"I'm really confident in my returns," said Zhu, who has now won seven matches since he began qualifying last Saturday. "I can place them and come in right off it. My serve is consistent--I focus on getting my first serve in and making the volley. Once you make the volley, it's really easy to dominate the point."

Zhu will face No. 4 seed Raymond Sarmiento, who also possesses an excellent return game, and a willingness to volley. It took Sarmiento two sets to get a rhythm against unseeded Emmett Egger, but he eventually found it to take a 7-6(5), 4-6, 6-1 decision.

Sarmiento was unable to break Egger until the third set, but in the opening set tiebreaker, he took a 6-3 lead when Egger didn't win either point serving down 3-4. Two set points went begging however, as Sarmiento lost his next two serves to make it 6-5. On his final chance, Sarmiento threaded a forehand past the net-hugging Egger to claim the set.

There was only one break in the second set, with Egger getting it at 2-2, and he made it stand up. But in the final set, Sarmiento broke in the second game and again in the sixth to eliminate any drama.

"He was serving very well, especially his first serve," Sarmiento said. "He made a high percentage of his first serves and it was tough for me to win those points. I started to get a consistent rhythm, anticipated a couple of his serves, got a break, and I got rolling."

Sarmiento and Zhu have never played, but given the qualifier's results this week, Sarmiento knows better than to take his opponent lightly.

"I haven't watched him much, but I've heard from others that he can hit the ball pretty big," Sarmiento said. "He can serve well, return well, has good hands, so it'll be a good battle. Grass is definitely an equalizer, and anything can happen on the grass."

Most of what happened to qualifier Lauren Davis in the first set of her semifinal match with Rio Kitagawa was slipping and errors, as she tried to find the form that had seen her win five consecutive matches in straight sets. The 15-year-old from Ohio eventually did, earning a 3-6, 6-2, 6-1 victory and her first berth in an ITF final.

"The fact that the grass was wet was getting into my head," said Davis, who had practiced prior to the tournament on a grass court at a club near her home outside of Cleveland, Ohio. "It shouldn't have bothered me, but I kept on sliding. And she was hitting hard--I don't think I was prepared for that."

Kitagawa used her forehand to keep Davis off balance in the opening set, but couldn't sustain that level when Davis began to slice often and come to the net more. After dropping the second set, Kitagawa, a 15-year-old from Japan, seemed to lose her focus, and the only game she won in the final set was with Davis serving for the match at 5-0.

Davis will face top seed Brooke Bolender for the first time when they meet in Saturday morning's final, and after saving match points in her second round win over Nicole Melichar, Bolender is starting to feel more at home on the surface.

"It's a comfort level," said Bolender, 17. "I think I've accepted the fact that you have to come in, even if you don't want to."

Against unseeded Chanelle Van Nguyen Friday, Bolender started well and held on for a 6-1, 6-4 victory.

Van Nguyen couldn't get her shots to find the court in the first set, but she played much better from the start of the second, breaking Bolender for the first time at 3-3. Unfortunately, she gave the break right back in the following game, and when Bolender held to take a 5-4 lead, the pressure was squarely on the 15-year-old from Florida. She saved three match points in the epic ten-deuce game that followed, one an error by Bolender, but the other two on drop shot and lob winners. Van Nguyen then had five game points, one a seemingly easy volley that she couldn't shovel over the net, but Bolender fought them all off, and gained a fourth match point. Van Nguyen sent a forehand long to end the game that had taken nearly as long as the third set of the Davis-Kitagawa match, and Bolender was relieved.

"If it would have gone to 5-all, I would have been a little nervous," said Bolender. "I was nervous in that game, because she was playing better in the second set than she did in the first, and she put a lot of pressure on me to close it out, so I was happy I did."


Van Nguyen got her revenge in the doubles final Friday afternoon, when she and partner Kyle McPhillips came from behind to take a 2-6, 6-2, 10-2 victory over Bolender and her partner Breaunna Addison in a battle of unseeded finalists. In the first set, McPhillips and Van Nguyen couldn't convert game points when they had them, but they reversed that trend by winning a deciding point on Bolender's serve in the second game of the second set, and ran out to a 4-0 lead.

"We were up 40-15 so many times in the first set," said McPhillips. "We couldn't close out the games. That was a big thing we kind of screwed up on that we fixed in the second set."

In the match tiebreaker, 15-year-olds McPhillips and Van Nguyen, who reached the Easter Bowl semifinals in April, continued their excellent play, while the level of Addison and Bolender dropped noticeably. As the errors mounted for their opponents, McPhillips and Van Nguyen kept the pressure on, rolling to their first title together in their six months as a team.

"I think what makes us really good is that we're best friends," McPhillips said. "We communicate well."

Top seeds Sarmiento and Nathan Pasha fashioned a 6-2, 5-1 lead against unseeded Egger and partner Andrew Korinek in the boys final late Friday afternoon, but were a point from 5-5 in the second set before winning a third deciding match point for a 6-2, 6-4 victory.

"On grass anything can happen so quickly," said Sarmiento. "One point here or there, and definitely the deuce point."

Serving at 1-5 and at 3-5, Egger and Korinek saved match points on those deciding points, and had Sarmiento down 15-40 when he was serving for the match at 5-4. Sarmiento and Pasha needed to win those last three points if they were to stave off the comeback, and they did. Sarmiento hit a service winner and Pasha put away a volley to get to the deciding point, and Egger netted a forehand volley to give Pasha and Sarmiento the title.

It was the second consecutive International Grass Court title for Sarmiento, who won it last year with Jordan Cox.

Despite the new partner, "it feels exactly the same as last year," said Sarmiento, who lives in the room next to Pasha at the USTA's Boca Raton Training Center. Neither would claim the same relationship as Van Nguyen and McPhillips, but both did jokingly concede that the other was "all right."

The schedule for Saturday is the girls final at 11:00 a.m. with the boys final to follow.

For complete draws, see the TennisLink site.